Scene of the “Accident”
Prosecutors Jeffrey Semow and Michael Latin from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s staff referred to the small building in Mike McLoren’s backyard as “his little den of privacy.” McLoren called it “the fort” – a place where he said he went to hang out, smoke marijuana, and, according to his sworn testimony, a place where others could buy drugs.
He entertained select company. The fort was equipped with electricity, telephone, television, VCR, stereo, video game equipment, a small single bed, a ratty little sofa, a desk, and a safe.
Inside, the walls were painted black. A single window was covered with a blanket to keep out light. Posters on the walls were enhanced by black lights.
Outside, a punching bag hung from a tree limb. On one side of the fort, street-side, was a painted picture of a fanged beast.
Prophetically, one morning approximately two years before the “incident”, Sharry Holland picked up her son, Micah, after the first and only time he had stayed over at McLoren’s house. At the time, instead of a painting of the fanged beast, she saw depicted a huge black face with what looked to be a fat cigarette hanging from big red lips, smoke curling in the air. She didn’t like what she saw, and she told Micah he wouldn’t be allowed to go there anymore. He knows now he should have listened!
Who: Jason Holland (18), Micah Holland (15), Brandon Hein (18), Tony Miliotti (17), Chris Velardo (17). Michael McLoren (16) and Jimmy Farris (16).
What: An alcohol and drug induced backyard brawl resulting in the stabbing of Mike McLoren and the stabbing death of Jimmy Farris.
When: May 22, 1995
Where: In an area known as Old Agoura in Agoura Hills, California.
On this particular day in May, Mike McLoren was working out on the punching bag hanging from a tree near the fort. His best friend, Jimmy Farris, whose father was a 25-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, was sitting in a lawn chair watching. Earlier, other local teens had been at the fort drinking, smoking pot and watching the movies Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers. By 7 pm, all had gone except McLoren and Farris.
It was about this same time that five popular male teenagers decided to stop by the fort to “get some weed.” However delinquent, it was not unusual. They, along with 30 or so more frequent “regulars” knew where to go to buy the stuff.
Chris Velardo was driving the little maroon pickup truck. In the cab with Chris were Micah Holland and Tony Miliotti. Jason Holland (Micah’s older brother) and Brandon Hein were lying down in the back of the pickup. All of them had been drinking. Jason had been drinking for the longest period of time. When they got to McLoren’s house, Micah, Jason, Brandon and Tony got out of the truck, hopped over a chain-link fence and casually walked down to the fort. Chris stayed in his truck, listening to the radio, smoking a cigarette with his feet on his dashboard.
None of the participants were strangers to one another. Brothers Jason and Micah had gone to the same schools with Chris, Tony and Mike. They had played Little League baseball together, skateboarded to one another’s houses, gone surfing and hung out in local parks. They grew up doing all the normal things youngsters do. Brandon Hein had moved to Agoura two years prior and had fit right in.
All of them were into surfboards, motorcycles, bikes, and skateboards. That was the “cool” stuff. But among other experiences were alcohol and drugs, and on this day, it was a combination of alcohol and the quest for drugs that led them to McLoren's house which ultimately resulted in a backyard brawl. In the melee, both Jimmy Farris and Mike McLoren were stabbed with a small pocket knife. The injuries proved fatal to Farris. McLoren, after treatment, made a full recovery.
The high-profile trial took place in Malibu, following on the heels of the sensational O.J. Simpson trial which had only recently taken place in Los Angeles. Charged with Felony Murder + Special Circumstances were Jason and Micah Holland, Brandon Hein and Tony Miliotti. Chris Velardo, who had been driving the pickup truck, was allowed to negotiate a plea bargain and did not stand trial. (Chris’s attorney just so happened to play golf with the Judge but, of course, it had no bearing on the negotiations.)
In his initial statement to police, McLoren said that the defendants had come to the fort to steal stereo and video equipment. However, none of the defendants’ finger prints had been found on any of the equipment, and a police investigator reported that a film of dust on the TV and stereo equipment had not been disturbed and none of the wires had been tampered with.
After being promised immunity from prosecution for the sale of drugs, McLoren changed his story, saying that the defendants had come to the fort to “steal” his marijuana. In spite of the fact that no marijuana was taken, nor were there any fingerprints of the defendants on the locked drawer containing marijuana, prosecutors from the LA District Attorney’s office maintained that the death of Jimmy Farris had occurred during the commission of a felony (attempted robbery). Thus, all of the defendants were charged and prosecuted under California’s Felony Murder Rule. Basically, this law says that if a death occurs during the commission of a felony (i.e. robbery, burglary), a suspect can be charged with first degree murder whether or not there is evidence of premeditation or an intent to cause death. If convicted, those charged can receive the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
At trial, McLoren testified that the four defendants jumped him once they were inside the fort, demanding his marijuana. A fight erupted. Through some herculean effort, McLoren said that he quickly got Micah Holland in a headlock and was elbowing him at the base of the skull. When brother Jason attempted to help Micah, McLoren said he “kicked Jason in the face.” When asked if Jason had a weapon in his hands at this point in the fight, McLoren testified that he did not see one. Farris was also involved in the fight which McLoren said “we were winning.”
As the fighting continued, McLoren said that he saw an opportunity to “get away”, and that both he and Farris ran from the fort to the back door of the McLoren residence, a distance of some 75 feet. Incredibly, according to his statement, neither he nor Farris realized they had been stabbed until they arrived at the house. It was while inside the house that young Farris collapsed and died. McLoren had two knife wounds in his lower back. Doctors who examined Farris testified that his wounds were approximately 2.5 inches in depth, but that the fatal wound had nicked his heart and that he bled internally. The doctor who treated him even wrote a letter to the judge asking for leniency, stating that he had seen far worse injuries where the victim survived, and had the wound been slightly over he would've survived. After treatment, McLoren recovered completely from his wounds.
According to McLoren, once he and Farris escaped the fight and ran to the house, the defendants didn’t chase them. Instead, he said, they walked away toward the street and to the pickup truck where driver Chris Velardo was waiting. A jogger who was passing by at the time confirmed that the defendants were walking rather leisurely – not running—toward the truck.
To make matters worse, District Attorney Jeff Semow pressed Judge Lawrence Mira to admit in another incident that happened earlier that day in another town – the theft of a wallet from an unoccupied parked vehicle. Although the Judge initially denied his requests, stating that the other incident was too prejudicial and not similar enough to the fort-house incident on several points. Semow argued, “If we don’t have the (wallet) incident, we don’t know if we can prove Felony Murder.” That next Monday, the judge reversed his own decision and allowed the evidence to be brought into the case as proof of a “crime spree.”
Six weeks into the trial, Jason Holland gave his testimony. He was the only one of the defendants to testify. At this point in the trial, prosecutors were theorizing that the defendants had “taken turns using the knife” and had painted Micah Holland (the youngest) as the ringleader.
However, Jason testified that he was the only one who had used a knife – a small pocketknife with a 2.5 inch blade. He said that he took the knife from his pocket when he was unable to free brother Micah from McLoren’s skull pounding headlock and after McLoren kicked Jason in the face. Jason admitted “pricking McLoren in the back twice” hoping that McLoren would be distracted enough to free Micah. That didn’t work and the fighting continued. He testified that seconds later, Jimmy Farris grabbed him by the shoulder, spun him around, and lifted him off the ground by the “neck of my shirt”. Jason still had the pocketknife in his hand and he said he lashed out with it as he pushed away from Farris. He testified that he saw no blood and that, even after getting away from Farris, the fighting continued until McLoren and Farris broke away and ran for the house.
Jason testified that the four defendants then walked back to the truck – taking nothing from the fort. They drove to some open space nearby and talked about what just happened. That’s when Jason told the other guys that he had pulled a pocketknife and thought he “might have stabbed them” but he wasn’t sure. He said the others didn’t believe him and razzed him about trying sound “big and bad.” They drove to a nearby McDonald’s where everyone got something to eat… except Jason.
All four defendants were tried as Adults and found guilty of attempted robbery which, under the Felony Murder Rule, magically turns their sentence into a first degree murder charge.
Jason Holland is now serving Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) plus 8 years, in a maximum security prison in Corcoran, CA. Now 36 years old, Jason steadfastly maintains that Jimmy Farris’ death was a tragic accident, and that he and the other defendants did NOT go to the fort with intentions of stealing or hurting anyone. He doesn’t deny that he used a knife in an effort to stop a spontaneous brawl where he thought his younger brother’s life was in danger. He testified that he was the only one of the defendants who knew about the knife and all he could see or was focused on (in his intoxication) was “Micah’s body flopping around like a rag-doll as he got beat down.” Jason had no prior convictions.
Micah Holland, at 15 years of age, was the youngest of the defendants, and because of his age, received a sentence of 29 years-to-Life. He is currently serving his sentence in Corcoran State Prison in Corcoran, CA. Now 33 years old, he has managed to survive in a maximum security prison and is an incredible artist. Micah was beat by McLoren the whole brawl. Micah, too, had no prior convictions.
Brandon Hein is currently serving a sentence of 29 years-to-Life in Lancaster, CA. Originally, Judge Lawrence Mira had sentenced him to LWOP but Governor Schwarzenegger stepped in and reduced Brandon’s sentence to 29-Life. His family runs a huge website for him at brandonhein.com where you can read all about him.
Tony Miliotti was originally given an LWOP sentence as well, however, during the appellate process the courts reduced Tony’s sentence to 18-Life because not even the prosecutors could say that Tony was involved in the fight. The last place he was seen by anyone was “standing in the doorway” to the fort. Tony is serving his sentence in Solano State Prison near Sacramento, CA. and was denied a parole in 2010.
One young man is dead, the result of a tragic but obviously unintentional and spontaneous backyard fight among teenagers. Another young man – an admitted one-time drug dealer – walks free after being the prosecution’s star witness.
Four other young men are in prison. One of them is guilty of manslaughter, not murder. Yet all four remain in prison. One of them, Jason, admits that he alone used a pocketknife to protect his brother but is unwavering in his truth that there was never any thought or intent to steal anything or kill anyone.
Admittedly, because a young man lost his life, much can be (and has been) said on both sides of this tragic story. Perhaps words like “tragedy” should center around and end with thoughts about the loss of a young man’s life.
But the fact is that the tragedy doesn’t end there. Yes, there are parents who will never see their son again, and for that all of us involved in these circumstances are eternally remorseful. But what of four young men, none of whom had been tried or convicted of a crime in their young lives, who have spent 18 years behind bars waiting for justice and have many more to face….maybe till their death….if justice never comes. Isn’t this also tragic? Of course it is. What of four sets of parents, grandparents, and other relatives who must daily live with thoughts that a childish backyard fight dooms them too, to a life of seeing their sons or grandsons through glass enclosures or prison bars forever? Is this not a tragedy? Without question, it is.
How do we deal with it?
The originators of this website are admittedly biased. We believe strongly that the Felony Murder Law was misapplied to this case. We are taking every means to have the case reviewed by every court possible. In the meantime, as the mother of Jason and Micah Holland, I will continue to do everything possible to keep their spirits up and to keep the seeds of hope growing in their lives. What they did was wrong. I know that. They know that. But what they did does not deserve the punishment they’re getting.
What you can do
1. Sign the petition to California’s Governor asking for commutation of all 4 sentences.
Help us in supporting the idea of freedom for Jason, Micah, Brandon and Tony. He knows about this case and he should do more to right this wrong.
2. Email or write the Governor your own personal letter:
Governor Jerry Brown
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 558-3160 (fax)
3. Donate to their cause
Thank You for daring to care.